Turkey Parts -What They Tell Us

The flight feathers that are called "primary" feathers are the ones that allow the bird to fly, without these further most feathers he becomes flightless. From these feathers especially the 10th primary you can tell the approximate age.

  • The Juvenile, 1 to 1 1/2 years old: This bird will have a very smooth pointed feather that is dark in color with a few white spots.
  • The Adult, 2 to 3 years old: This bird will have a rounded end to his feathers and  also wider than the juvenile. It will have larger an wider white spots nearly to the tip of the feather.
  • The Old Gobbler, over 3 years old: This old bird has worn his feather tips because of strutting which is done by dragging his feathers on the ground. As the turkeys molt and loose feathers the white areas get larger and wider with age.

A young turkey's tail is somewhat irregular in appearance because of the late replacement of four to six of the central feathers. This appearance will remain with the young bird until the second autumn. From the second autumn onward the turkeys tail  will  be smooth, rounded and even in appearance.

The wild turkey grows a hair-like beard that continues to grow throughout its life time. The beard grows from a featherless oval of skin called a "papilla"

A young "Jake" has a beard that protrudes from his breast feathers at about 6 months of age and often has a tan color to the further most tips.

The beard grows about 4-5 inches a year so a 2 year old bird may have a beard 8-10 inches long and the tips will have become lighter. There is a documented beard in Alabama of 16.9 inches!!

Three year old birds have the longest beards, but they have now started to wear them down by dragging them on the ground while feeding. The beard will be absent of the lighter color on the tips because of this wear.

When turkeys have more than one "papilla" on there breast they can grow multiple beards, there was a reported case of 8 separate beards from an old gobbler from WI !!!

Feet and Spurs
A young juvenile less than 1 year old will have a spur about 1/2 inch or less. This young turkey's feet will   have darker scales because of a pigment called "melanin". As the scales grow they become clearer and the turkey's foot takes on a pink or reddish color by the time they are 1 1/2 years old. 

A 2 year old wild turkey will have a spur from 1/2 to 1 inch in length with a somewhat rounded point.

A 3 year old wild turkey usually always has a spur at least 1 inch in length with a sharp point.

The old gobbler will sport the longest spurs with the maximum being about 2 inches and also will have a sharp point.

After you harvested that Long Beard take him to Wessner's Taxidermy in Tower City Pa. follow the directions under the link Turkey In the Field tip And you will have a prize winning mount of a lifetime!